Car reviews - Holden - Barina - hatch
Price, equipment, presentation
Room for improvement
Lacks excitement, dynamic appeal
9 Jun 2006
THE Holden Barina, not without justification, has been close to the heart of Australians since the first Suzuki-based version came here in the mid 1980s.
Although the parentage and place of birth have been somewhat mixed – it was first sired by Suzuki in Japan, then again by the German GM manufacturer Opel, but built in Spain – the Barina has managed to acquire something of an identity that has seen the name endure much longer than any of its competitors.
In Australia, no other light car nameplate has been around for as long.
And now, the Barina tag has been glued to the front of another car, from another part of the world - this time Korea - and is actually a model once seen here with Daewoo badges.
The car we now know as the Barina was once a Kalos and was sold in Australia between April 2003 and December 2004, but never in the numbers Holden hopes to achieve. The biggest year for the Kalos was its first year – 2003 – and 3362 buyers happily drove away in their little Daewoos unaware of what the future had in store, both for the Kalos and the brand itself.
In the year Kalos did its best sales, Holden sold just 4764 XC Barinas, which was quite a dip from previous years. But with some steady efforts by the Holden sales team, as well as a few upgrades, the Opel-designed car climbed steadily until 2005, when it doubled its 2003 figures.
The competition was getting unbelievably fierce by then, as Hyundai marched into leadership with its hip new Getz, snatching the baton from Toyota’s previously top-selling Echo amid a strikingly good range of light cars including the Mazda2, Suzuki Swift and Ford Fiesta.
Not to mention the budget-price cars from Kia and Proton, as well as a smattering of slightly higher priced temptations from Renault (Clio, starting at around $19,000), Citroen (C3, $20,000), Honda (Jazz, just over $15,000), Mitsubishi (Colt, $19,000), Peugeot (206, $19,000) and Volkswagen (Polo, $17,000).
An over-populated market indeed, but one still largely dictated by price – which means that, within reason, the less intimidating the sticker, the better the chance of finding a steady stream of customers.
So the new Barina-badged Kalos lands right at the bottom end of the class, in terms of price, and looks, on paper, a pretty good deal even compared with the German-designed version that it supersedes.
The ItalDesign styling seems more suggestive of the early 2000s than something that would comfortably take it through to the end of the decade, but there’s no arguing that the Barina, in both three and five-door form, is clean and non-confronting to look at and, with its lion-badged grille, is quite clearly marked as a Holden.
The standard kit, for an opening price of $12,990 for the three-door version, is pretty comprehensive, while the car is touted as bigger than the previous Barina, which it – sort of - is, and more powerful, which it generally also is, except for the outgoing 1.8-litre SRi hot-hatch three-door version.
We say sort of, because while the body is larger than the old Barina in length, width and height, the new car is actually shorter in the wheelbase, by 11mm.
But overall, the new car fits pretty well with the Barina concept in terms of size and, yes, it does replace the previous 1.4-litre DOHC 16-valver with a bigger, similarly-configured 77kW/145Nm 1.6-litre powerplant derived from Holden’s Family One series that once did service in the Gemini.
And, as mentioned, the standard equipment list is pretty comprehensive considering the entry price (the five-door version adds $2000, as does the optioning up to a four-speed auto transmission).
Your base Barina comes with dual front airbags, air-conditioning, remote central locking, a six-speaker AM/FM radio with MP3 compatible CD player, power windows, power mirrors and power steering.
The only options are ABS (four-channel, but still with drum back brakes), the choice of metallic paint, which adds $250, or automatic transmission. Dealer-fitted alloy wheels are available in 15 or 16-inch diameter.
So what does the latest Barina present to the aspiring entry-level light car buyer?
If you’ve driven a Kalos, you’ll find the Barina is pretty much the same, except for some suspension tuning by Holden engineers that firms the ride and sharpens the handling via a reworked suspension (MacPherson struts at the front, torsion beam at the rear).
This was aimed at bringing the dynamics closer to Australian expectations via new dampers, a bigger front stabiliser bar and revised spring rates all round.
The steering, probably due to the comfort-oriented 185/55R15 tyres, still ends up being neither particularly sharp nor quick.
The bigger engine’s extra grunt isn’t handled with entire ease by a drivetrain that, in Kalos form, only had to deal with 1.5 litres. Torque steer, and easily induced wheelspin are noticeable intrusions.
The engine otherwise does its duty effectively, delivering good performance and decent economy. The official average of 6.9L/100km for the manual, and 7.8L/100km for the auto - on regular unleaded - is nevertheless bettered by the previous 1.4-litre Barina that returned 5.9L/100km in manual form and 7.6L/100km as an auto.
We tested both the three and five-door Barinas – the former as a manual, the latter as an auto – and found, perhaps surprisingly, that the little Holden works better in automatic form.
Apart from the "hold" control that enables it to be locked in a particular gear, there’s nothing special about the four-speed auto, but it works well enough to give the car some feeling of driveline refinement. The manual lacks the pleasing tactility found in some light cars.
And, in the manual, the fact that maximum torque doesn’t come in until a relatively high 3600rpm tends to mean a little more gear shuffling than the big capacity and slightly long-stroke configuration might suggest.
Until reaching 3500rpm, where it begins to deal out a full 1.6 litres worth of torque, the engine feels a little flat and unresponsive.
The auto, on the other hand, deals with this a bit better, using the torque converter to good effect with generally unruffled behavior unless kickdown is regularly asked for. Then it gets a fair bit busier.
The ABS option is worth taking up, but the Barina still runs on a system using ventilated front discs and rear drums, which is probably okay given the performance but still not as good as four-wheel discs. About the only positive side is that at least the handbrake works well.
The interior is presented well enough too, naturally without the yielding, soft-touch dash expected higher up the food chain, but neatly enough trimmed and tastefully presented in your normal grey shades.
And, although the interior space is reasonably good – quite adequate up front, tight in the back, in both three and five-door form - but there are a few beefs, such as a complete lack of room for the driver's left knee (the dash is entirely in the way) which becomes very uncomfortable after only a short time at the wheel.
The space isn’t as well utilised as, for example, Toyota’s Yaris, which offers a variety of back-seat fore-aft adjustments, as well as a multi-folding rear seat that maximises boot space.
In the Barina, the single-fold 60-40 back seats don't form a flat floor, creating an in-the-way raised step, but it will carry 200 litres of luggage- expanding to 1190 litres with everything folded - and there is a full-size spare wheel.
For the driver, the height-adjustable seat and the MP3/CD audio with steering mounted controls are welcome, even if the steering wheel itself can be set only for height, not reach.
The Barina comes with a holder for sunglasses, as well as pockets behind the front seats, two cupholders in the dash and vanity mirrors behind both sunvisors – some of which you might not normally expect at this price level.
Holden says the Barina was given a thorough workout as far as passive safety is concerned, and contains all the usual elements that protect the central passenger cell in a collision with collapsible front and rear structures as well as side-impact beams in the doors. Dual front airbags are standard.
In the end, in a segment of the market where pricing is absolutely critical, the Barina looks quite compelling. The style is inoffensive, the equipment levels are excellent and the packaging, though basic, is effective enough.
It might back away from the Euro flair of the Opel-sourced Barina, but maybe that doesn’t matter as much as the fact it’s a very cheap way into a car supported by Holden’s massive Australian network.
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